What's in a Name?

The Last Name Debate

The last name debate has been going on for quite some time now. It is not a new question for people to ask: should I take his last name? But people seem to think that it is a phenomenon of the 21st century. 

Deciding on a last name is a very personal decision. Some people still firmly believe that a woman must take the last name of their husband. There is nothing wrong with this belief. And no one should tell you not to do it if that's what you want. But there is no rule making it a necessary thing to legally change your name to your husband's. 

Some husbands take their wife's last name. Some people hyphenate their last names. Some people create an entirely new last name for the family. And some people just keep their names as they have been their whole life. 

It's hard to say what is the right approach as I don't believe there is one answer to this. 

A name is a very personal thing. You are given your name at birth and it quickly becomes your identity. Some people only feel this for their first name, but there are many who are strongly attached to their surnames. And rightly so. There wouldn't be such an emphasis in history of "carrying on the family name" if surnames didn't hold some value. 

Historically, it has always been males that are responsible for carrying on the family name. Tradition, religion, and a patriarchial focus of society has kept it this way for centuries. But we no longer need to follow that practice. It is no longer the obligation of men to carry on their family's name. This can be done by anyone. 

The restructuring of family groups has also contributed this. Same-sex marriages has thrown a curve ball into the gender-specific tradition. And the change is a good one. It makes us, as a society, rethink the practice and necessity of taking someone's last name. 

There are many reasons why a woman may not want to take her husband's last name. These are personal reasons and she is entitled to have them. But it is a topic that needs to be discussed within your relationship. 

Personally, I am rather attached to my last name. It represents my family to me, where I come from, and my legacy. It represents my success in my career and in school. My degrees were given to me with that last name. My publications are under that name. I have built a complete identity around that name and it means a great deal to me. 

Would I take my partner's last name? It is still something that I am under debate about. I would go by that last name in social settings and conversation. I would give my children that last name so that they can build their own identity. But would I legally change it?

I can't say for sure. There is a hassle and cost associated with changing your last name legally that doesn't quite balance out with the outcome. You are who you say you are when you meet people. There is no need to discuss if your last name is legal or not. That is your personal information and you are under no obligation to provide it to a stranger. 

Alternatively, there is nothing stopping me from publishing under my maiden name. There is nothing legally stopping me from doing that. I won't be exiled from my family group if I change my last name. I won't lose my family identity because of it. I lose very little by changing my name and potentially gain a new family identity, the family I create with my partner. 

There is no right choice in this. A strong-minded feminist might say that it is imperative for women to keep their maiden names, to hold onto their identities in order to dismantle this patriarchial tradition. I don't believe that this one act of defiance against an age-old tradition will do that, but I also don't believe that changing your name is a social obligation any longer. 

Whatever you choose to do is your choice. Discuss it with your partner. Talk about your reasons for support for the tradition or dislike of it. And, ultimately, stick to what makes you happy.

People will judge you for everything you do in life, but it is you that has to live with your decisions. So don't take this one lightly. 

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