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Mrs. Something

Thursday, July 19, 2012
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Dear Miriam,

I just got married, and I'm debating whether or not to change my last name. While I love my hubby, I also love my family, and my last name represents a lifetime of their love and my happiness. From an ease of paperwork / benefit of future children perspective, it clearly makes sense to change my name, but I get sad when I think of saying goodbye to such a big part of me. Also, I hate hyphens. What's a girl to do?

Signed,
Mrs. Something

Dear Mrs.,

If there were an easy answer to your question, I wouldn't have a hyphenated last name myself. I grappled with this extensively before, during and after my wedding. Four years after the fact, sometimes I introduce myself one way and sometimes another. Some days I get frustrated when mail/phone calls/introductions don't acknowledge my hyphenated name and some days I don't care at all. Most days I just pity people who have to take my information over the phone.

Much of my reasoning behind my hyphenating was for future children. I'd worked in schools where children had different last names from their parents; it was confusing, and I wanted to avoid that confusion as much as possible. Leading up to the birth of our daughter, lots of people asked me about her last name and whether it would be hyphenated. It's not. She has my husband's last name. I couldn't bear to saddle her with this particular choice that I'd made for myself.

I share all these personal details because you've outlined the dilemma perfectly and you're not alone in grappling with all the implications of any particular choice you might make. As I've said many times in this column, we have more choices available to us today than any previous generation, and it's both a blessing and a curse. Not too long ago, when a woman got married, she took her husband's name. There just wasn't a debate to be had. Now, there's hyphenating, there's making up a new name together, there's changing middle names, there's husbands taking wives' names and on and on.

Assuming that you're in your 20s or 30s and that, G-d willing, you and your husband can look forward to many, many, many years together, you have the potential to be married for significantly longer than you were single. Any choice you make about your name is the right one, and, through the wonderful magic of our legal system, no choice has to be permanent. I changed my name on g-mail long before I changed it with Social Security.

You still have to make a decision, though, so here's an action plan: Write down all the options for what your name could be moving forward. Look at them in your handwriting, in your husband's handwriting, in print, on your email signature, etc. If you're going on vacation or anywhere where it doesn't matter who you are, try introducing yourself in a few different ways. Even try out the hyphenated way, just so you can be sure that's not an option. See what feels right. Trust your gut. Know that whatever you call yourself and whatever you call your future children and whatever anyone says about your decision, you're in the process of creating a family, and that is much more important than last names.

Be well,
Miriam

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