Planning a wedding is all about making decisions: Should we through a causal backyard bash or black-tie ballroom affair? Plated dinner or a free-for-all buffet? Fondant cake or macaroon tower? Mini-moon now or honeymoon later? But one of the biggest decisions you may make is whether to change your last name — and when that question is posed to same-sex couples, our expert says, the options can seem endless.
"Same sex couples are the creative pioneers of modern marriage, for all of us," says Mark O'Connell, New York City-based psychotherapist and author of Modern Brides & Modern Grooms: A Guide to Planning Straight, Gay, and Other Nontraditional Twenty-First-Century Weddings. "That lack of formal same-sex marriage traditions means that our options are wide open. And that goes for the surnames we choose to use, too."
After all, O'Connell points out, there's not exactly a name-change tradition that's been set for hundreds of years, as there has been for heterosexual couples, that guides same-sex couples one way or another. "The lack of precedential standards for marriages like ours means that there are no tradition police to tell us whose name to take," he says.
Of course, one obvious option is for both of you to keep both of you respective surnames. "Most modern couples today, gay or straight, value equality and mutual recognition between partners," O'Connell explains. "And the many same-sex couples who choose to keep their own surnames post-wedding, are great symbols of this gender neutral equality within marriage. Many straight couples are following this example, too."
But as stated above, that's hardly your only choice. Together, you could decide to take one partner's surname as your own. "Some couples prefer to have one last name for the sake of coherence and for recognition by the rest of the world," O'Connell says. Be prepared for roadblocks if you take this route, O'Connell warns, as you will need to seek court approval to change your given name.
"Currently the only case in which a spouse can take her spouse's surname without a lot of complicated paperwork is when a woman takes her husband's last name," he says. "Every other case — including straight grooms taking the surname of their straight brides — involves court approval, and lots of legal paperwork depending on the state in which you live."
Lastly, you could consider creating a new last name that you both take as your own, and that, should you choose to have them, your children could one day share too. This works, too, if you're intent on keeping a professional name but want a new name for legal and personal matters, O'Connell says.
You might even consider creating a new last name that both you, your spouse, and your children share. Both spouses might consider keeping their professional names exactly as they are and creating a new name for all legal/ personal matters. This could also help to protect privacy for their family, if one or both of the spouses has very public careers.