What’s In A Name?

What’s in a name? I had to go back to the Courthouse recently (socially distanced and masked), to re-apply for my updated passport. It’s a long, complicated, and bureaucratic story that I won’t bore you with. But the heart of it is: I was married before, took my husband’s name, then got divorced – in 1983 – and resumed my birth name. That’s the name I’ve used since, and everyone knows me this way.

When my husband Sandy, who’s conveniently had the same name since birth, went to re-up his passport it was the usual pile of paperwork, but no hassles. He applied, he received it two weeks later (thanks for good service, U.S. Passport Office!).

They could have named me “acceptable.” Awkward. Source.

And my passport will get sorted out too, but this experience has reinforced my happiness in keeping my own name when I married Sandy. He kept his own name too. He asked me why I didn’t want to change it and I told him “It’s my family’s name.” That was cool with him. It’s really my late father’s name, as my mother changed hers to his when they married in 1954. Not many other options seemed available to women then.

“No,” said the cat. “Now, you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”

― Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Now I celebrate that women (and men) have choices. It’s common in my former profession – psychotherapy – for married women to use their birth names. It’s more common everywhere for women to feel supported in this decision. And I know a couple in which the husband changed his last name to hers. He said he got a lot of grief at the Social Security office, and that’s not fair.

I am as married as any woman out there – with twenty-eight years of joyful togetherness, and a couple of decades ahead. And I love having my own name. It feels good. My in-laws never accepted it – they always addressed me as Mrs. Husband’s-last-name. They were from another generation, married in 1944, and were not going to change their minds! Lovely, generous people, though, and they are missed.

Sandy’s parents in the 1940’s, at the Rainbow Room. Gorgeous couple.

“Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Do you have any feelings about this naming issue? No wrong answers, of course, I’d just love to hear your views. No names required. 😊

Stay fabulous and safe, wash and wash and wash (your hands), xo

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  1. Hi I got married in 1967 (yeah a long time ago) and back then, we never even heard of anyone not taking their husband’s last name, at least where I lived. I didn’t even know back then that you could keep your last name! I’m not sorry about using my husband’s last name but I wish I knew that I had the choice either way. That’s great that you kept our last name. Just because you could! Love this post! Take care and be safe Arlene from NJ

    • Thanks Arlene, for coming over and sharing your story. You were certainly in the majority in 1967! and there’s nothing wrong with changing our names – it is nice to have choices, as you said. Stay well and safe, xx.

  2. Patti, this is such a fabulous post! I changed my name the first time I got married and I didn’t really want to. That marriage ended after only 2 1/2 years. I changed my name back to my birth name and when I remarried a decade later, I did not change my name. And like you, I am no less married than any other married woman. My husband and I also don’t wear wedding rings for a variety of reasons mostly we find rings uncomfortable but we also don’t like how a wedding ring is often viewed as a symbol of some kind of ownership. Again, we are no less married than any other married couple. We stand firm in our belief that everyone person has the right to structure their relationships in ways that work best for them. No more societal dictates on how our relationships “should” look for public approval!


    • Brava to you, Shelbee, for forging the kind of marriage that suits you and you your husband. We are no longer “property” nor is public approval needed : > Thanks for coming over and have a wonderful day, stay safe, xx.

  3. Before the famous early feminist and advocate for women’s voting rights Lucy Stone married her husband, Henry Blackwell, also an advocate for women’s voting and economic rights, they wrote into their “pre-nup” that Stone would retain her name and her right to own her own property.
    Up into the 1960s and 70s, women who retained their name after marriage were referred to as “Stoners”

    • Good morning Pal and thanks for coming over! What a great piece of history, I am a “Stoner” now and forever. My readers are so smart and resourceful – thank you. And stay well and safe, xx.

  4. When I married for the third time at the age of 65, I retained my birth name which was granted to me as a condition of my divorce from my second husband. Notice I used “birth” name and not “maiden” name. Men are given a name at birth period while women, at birth, have maiden names. Upon marriage, the convention is for the wife to assume the surname of her husband. Well, I liked my birth name. It was part of my identity. This is the 21st century and society at large should reflect the changing status of women and not adhere to the very archaic practice of determining a woman’s surname according to her marital status. Many women have achieved success on their own merits under their own (birth) name. At the age of 76, I will not live to see such a sweeping change but I believe that, over time, change will come!

    • Thanks, CJ, for adding your thoughts to our lively discussion. I always use the term “birth name” as “maiden name” sounds a bit medieval! Stay well and safe, xx.

  5. I knew from a very young age that if I got married I would keep my own name, so when I married in the late 80’s that’s what I did. The marriage was short-lived which made me even more glad I didn’t change my name. Most women I know who get married now either keep their own names or hyphenate it with their husband’s.

    • You were wise, Shelley, and ahead of your time. Thanks for coming over and sharing your experience! Stay well and safe, xx.

  6. I live in New Zealand – our Prime Minister is a woman and is not married to the man who is the father of her child – nobody has a problem with that. Everyone would be astonished if she changed her name. Most women in her generation would not dream of changing their name just because they got married.
    I am older and married in 1970- I did change my name when we married but that was because my husband has a normal anglo-celt name and mine was both complicated to spell and to say and I wanted to blend in rather than be treated as a foreigner. I was studying law and wanted to work in a law firm so I chose a “sensible” path. In the changed world of today I would not make the same decision but I like my name perhaps because after 50 years we are still very happy and both my parents were “much married” which made me very sad. I feel proud of what we have achieved in both growing and staying together but with an independent existence as well.

    • Hello Angela, and thanks for sharing this heartfelt story of a name. After 50 years, to be happy and proud together, what a wonderful way to live. You go New Zealand, and be a shining light for the world! Stay well, xx.

  7. When I married my husband at age 41, I said I was keeping my name. He was fine with it because that’s the custom in Belgium–even his mother, married in the 1950s, kept her name. Then we get to France, where my accountant filled out all the paperwork for me to start self-employment and dutifully put in my husband’s last name. Even the bank refused to put my name on the account–it had to be Mr. and Mrs. His Name. I was furious. I made twice as much as him. “Only one last name per household,” they told me. I defiantly sign checks with my own name. The worst is that legally, women in France keep their names but are allowed “use” of their husband’s last name. So I’ve been pushed into a custom I don’t follow and abhor. I have tried to correct my name in all the official places, but they want a divorce certificate! That will be coming up.

    • Good morning, TOF and thanks for coming over. Your name story is dramatic, like JS below. What’s in a name? A whole lot of bureaucracy and stubbornness it seems. I love that you signed your own name on your checks. Stay strong, and safe from a virus, and rock your name. xx

  8. I was married in the sixties and took my husband’s last name. We were married over 25 years when we divorced or as my ex-husband so eloquently put it, I “broke the family”. There were two reasons why I did not return to my maiden name. One was that my youngest child was only 12 and going through the divorce process was bad enough without one’s mother renouncing your own last name (my opinion). But the main reason was that I had become the person I was with that last name. I had been known by that name for more years than by my maiden name and established my professional career under that name. However, one of my children was so angry that their father had the long term marriage annulled by the Catholic Church, he legally changed his name.

    • Hello JS and thank you for sharing your name story. And it’s got some twists and turns! And: how can a 25 year marriage be annulled, is that actually possible? Stay safe and well, and awesome, xx.

  9. Returned to my maiden name legally after my divorce. The marriage was short and my children young -they had no problem with my name. My second husband did not question the decision to keep my own name. On and off had a few issues with this decision. Mostly “official” documents and agencies. I am happy to have my family name and glad others get that choice.

    • Yes, well said, Denise. Someone is bound to “disapprove” of our decisions, but that doesn’t stop us. Glad you’re enjoying your family name; it is a lovely one! xx

  10. This is such a refreshing subject, Patti! I was married previously – only not long enough to change my social security card, so when I remarried about five years later I did the “hyphenome” convention and so my last name begins with my maiden name (father’s family name) – my husband’s family name. It makes for a long email address and signature, but made the most sense to me at the time. I salute all my friends who retained their “maiden” names, though. I think my late mother would have, if she could have, but she married in 1951, in very conservative times! Cheers!

    • Hello Mary Liz and thanks for coming by. Agreed, the hyphenated names take up more space! My parents married in the 50’s also, and our moms probably didn’t get to choose. Stay well, xx.

  11. Married in 1975 and never took my husband’s last name which created a lot of consternation with all the grandparents and my mother. His grandma never came around but always addressed mail to me as Mrs. Husband’s Name. I never thought of how the outside world at large would process it until my first parent-teacher conference when the teacher asked how often my child saw her father, assuming we were divorced. Of my three daughters, one kept her last name, one did not, and the third who changed is now going through the $ and hassle of resuming her birth name, having gotten divorced.
    Many people thought I did not change my name because my husband’s is tongue-twisting Polish and mine is super common but that was never the reason. I never saw the point to changing my name as it felt like losing my identity. One time a former classmate approached me in a store and said “Didn’t you used to be — –?” Well, I still am….I’m not dead!!

    • Hello Barbara! Yes, yes a thousand times to our names being part of our identity. And the story about “Didn’t you used to be?” is sadly hilarious. Not dead yet. Stay safe and well, xx.

  12. I was mailed the first time at 17, so of course, I took my husband’s name. After the divorce my children wanted us to all have the same last name so I didn’t change it. When I remarried at 43 that was my professional name and my second husband was fine with me not changing my name. His family NEVER called me by my name, especially his mother. When I ordered the marker for his gravesite, the man said I wasn’t married to him because we had different last names. After I cussed him out, I strongly suggested he come into the 21st century and not insult another person as he insulted me.

      • Your story about the grave marker is appalling! And sorry for your loss. AND, so proud of you for cussing the guy out. Just a note of harmony: I was 45 at my second wedding, far from a young maiden! Thanks for coming over, Deborah and please stay safe and well, xx.

  13. Nice to receive another post from you. Thank you ,your article is something to think about and formulating and expressing an opinion is fun. I think it is wonderful that with the feminist movement we have a choice. Personally I would prefer maintaining a madden name for career and a blended last name hers hyphen plus his on legal documents for the woman so she will have the same last name of their children. The blend enables us to honor our beloved parents. Your post made me aware that name changes should be made easier good news for you your passport will be good for 10 years.

    • Good morning Joan and thank you for coming over, and for your thoughtful comments. If one has children (I don’t) you’re right, there are more naming considerations. Stay well and safe, xx.

  14. Love this post! The first argument my then fiancé ever had was what my last name would be. I don’t regret taking his last name, but I refuse to use Mrs. and especially not Mrs His Fullname. I loved freaking out my mother-in-law.

    • Haha Cary Jo, I love your approach. Yeah, when I discovered “Mrs.” is a contraction of “mistress of” I decided to skip that title : > Have a lovely day and stay safe and well, xx.

  15. I compromised and did the hypen name bit…maiden and then the married. But people used the last name mostly. Now a widow buthave not changed it…matches mykids now.

    • Hello Dara and thanks for coming over. So sorry for your loss. It’s lovely to match your kids’ name. Stay safe, xx.

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