The gentleman I’d been introduced to asked me how to spell my last name. I did so, laughing that I’ve spent a lifetime spelling it for people.
“Oh, you mean now. What was your name before?” he asked.
“Sommerfeld,” I replied.
“No, before you were married.”
“Sommerfeld. Before, during and after.”
There has been a spate of articles in the news lately as several studies try to track changes in matrimonial monograms. In the 1990s, 23% of women retained their maiden name, and it’s apparently now tumbled to 17%. I admit this surprised me. I also admit I’m probably surprised only because in the world I work in, many of the women I know started out in their industries under one name, and aren’t eager to trade away the reputation they’ve established by using another.
When I got married at 26, I never contemplated changing my name. My husband at the time didn’t know that, but I liked my name, and I wanted to continue using it. I didn’t have a long line of noble blood, I didn’t have a roaring professional reputation, and I didn’t have a potent need to make a statement other than I very much liked the label I’d always had. The no-brother-having thing played into it: our line dies out here which makes Sommerfelds an endangered species.
I remember being more surprised at the dumb arguments I heard. My children would be confused that my last name didn’t match theirs. I’m their mother; there are moments they wish I wasn’t, but I am. Some women continue to use both names for various parts of their lives (“situational name users”), and I’m going to guess that’s confusing, too. So?
I would insult my husband by not taking his name; how about not wanting to insult my father by ditching his? The married name was far easier to spell and I should leap on it; I’m worth the extra effort and thanks to Google, close enough is good enough.
I didn’t get all cranky if teachers or other parents called me Mrs. KidsLastName. If they were someone I’d be having ongoing contact with, I’d correct them. If not, I’d let it go.
I’m uncertain how keeping a maiden name is a slam against any man. It’s a decision made between those two people, and quite frankly, if a guy is shocked upon learning his bride-to-be plans on keeping her name, they probably shouldn’t be getting married. Same sex couples get to break new ground; no vowels in your last name, I win by default.
I’m inherently lazy. Changing official documents takes forever, and I know people who have been married three times. I know one couple who made up an entirely new name when they got married. They’re now divorced, but they each kept the name. Twenty years ago, I recall seeing more hyphenated names, but when people also started giving their offspring last names as first names, my kids’ preschool attendance records sounded like a roll call of law firms.
A Dutch study revealed “those who [changed their names] were judged as more caring, dependent and emotional, while those who kept their names were seen as smarter and more ambitious.” I admit it: that interpretation bothers me. I don’t mind being presumed smart or ambitious, but I can be caring and emotional. Very emotional, dammit.
There is a guy in the U.S. who changed his name to Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop. From Jeff. That might augment the ‘emotional’ side of that debate, but I’d still like to hold out until I hear from Mrs. Zopittybop- Bop-Bop.