To Take His Last Name or Not? That Is the Question

Yes, we’re still having this debate

Updated 02/22/17

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Don't get us wrong, we love a good wedding tradition, but is it time for brides-to-be to consider keeping their names? As couples are getting married later in life, is changing your name after marriage too old-fashioned for a modern couple? About half of American women who participated in a study run by a Portland State University sociology professor disagreed—going so far as to agree that taking your husband's name should be mandatory—and enforced by law. Another 20 percent thought it was a good idea for women to keep their maiden names, even if they stopped short of making it a legal requirement. Brushing past the fact that this study might be flawed (the sample size was small), the maiden-name issue is deeply personal and extremely contentious to a lot of people. That should hardly be surprising, since it’s about their very identity.

What is surprising (to a lot of career women, at least), is that we’re still having this debate, given how important people in both corporate and entrepreneurial settings consider their “brand.” We asked Kathy Caprino, a women’s career and personal development coach, as well as writer, to weigh in on the topic.

“I try to look at more than just the outcome, as in ‘Will it impact your brand?’,” says Caprino, “I ask people to take a step back and ask themselves, ‘Why would I want to change my name?’”

Caprino says that when she thought about it for herself, she decided it meant a lot more than simply a “number of letters.” To her, it was also about carrying on her father’s name, since her parents had no boys. “I didn’t want the name to die with him,” she says.

“I think it’s really important to understand what it really means to relinquish your name. If you’re good about that and that’s what you believe, great, but you need to look at it very clearly. Don’t just go with the trend. Look at what it means for you.”

To Caprino, who married at 32, she also didn’t want to jeopardize the thousands of hours she spent building up her name in the corporate world.

It seems kind of like a no-brainer to many. So, why this backlash? Some people object to it because people hate hyphens. Other people worry about practicalities: banking, children’s passports, and cross-border travel. Most likely, though, the majority of people who object to women keeping their maiden names are probably motivated by the idea that taking your husband’s name is a symbolic gesture that will strengthen the marriage. There isn’t really a lot of evidence for that, though. In fact, Caprino, who also counsels people on relationship issues, thinks it shouldn’t make any difference.

Strong marriages come from people being able to be who they really are,” she says, “Everyone needs to feel like they can be who they really are for a successful marriage and a successful career.”

Simple enough.

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