What’s in a (last) name?

8 Jun

I took major criticism the day that I unveiled my new hyphenated name on Facebook last year.  I’m listed by my maiden name (so that people from grade school could find me) and my hyphenated last name which is a combination of my first husband’s last name and DH’s last name.  Not only does it make for one really long last name, it completely threw my friends off.  “Did you get married?”  No, we didn’t.  And we have no intention of doing so anytime soon.  So, why the change?  Let’s go back a few years…

I was born to an 18-year old single mom in the 1960’s. She gave me my father’s last name and since they were never married, she was still known by her maiden name.  Having a different last name than my mom really bothered me when I was a child.  Since we lived with my grandparents and everyone had the same last name except me, in a strange way, I felt like I didn’t  belong. 

My mother married when I was 10 and took my stepfather’s last name.   And once again, I felt like an outsider: not only did everyone one in the house (except for me) have the same last name; I was also the only daughter.  It got worse when my fair-haired, blue-eyed little stepbrother used the brown crayon to depict me in the family portrait that he drew at school while everyone else was drawn in peach.  I was an outsider and even my 4-year stepbrother knew it.

When I was 14, my birth father gave up his legal rights, my stepfather adopted me and I got what I wanted—the same last name as everyone in my family.  I was oddly relieved and elated as the same time because for the first time in my life, I had the same last name as my mom.

Fast forward 26 years and I’m sitting at the table with my 11-year old son, still reeling from a tumultuous divorce.  He asked me if I was going to change my name back now that I was no longer married to his father and I said no.  I explained to him how I felt growing up and that it was important to me that we have the same last name. 

What I didn’t see coming is that I’d fall in love again with a man with two children, that I would choose to be in a committed relationship but remain unmarried, and then choose to have a baby.  Hmm, that complicates things, doesn’t it?  That’s when I decided to legally change my last name (without getting married) so that it’s hyphenated to include the last names of children from my first marriage and my new baby.  It was important to me to have the same last name as all my biological children (from my former marriage and my current relationship) and to share a name with my stepchildren as well since my youngest daughter, their half-sister, shares their last name. 

For me, sharing a last name with my children is a powerful connection but for other moms, it’s not.  From what I have observed, the issue of last names tends to make women extremely territorial.  Here’s what I’ve seen and heard:

StepMom: “She  won’t change her last name because she’s hanging on to the only thing she has left of MY man!” 

My response:  Perhaps. However, she probably didn’t change her name because she wanted to keep it the same as the kids, or she may not have wanted to go through the hassle involved with changing her name on everything. And trust me, it IS a pain.

StepMom:  “Shouldn’t she be called ‘Ms.’ instead of ‘Mrs.’?  Don’t they know she’s not married to him anymore? I am!”

My response:  Does it really matter?  The polite thing to do is to call women “Mrs. So and So”, especially if you’re referring to a child’s mother (and it’s someone that you don’t know very well).  No one does it to offend you and honestly, it’s a bit socially awkward to ask someone to call you “Ms.” instead of “Mrs.”  Let it go.

BioMom:  “I was planning on keeping my married name, but now that my ex has remarried, there’s no way I’m sharing a last name with his new wife.”

My response:  So you’d let your children have the same name their father and stepmother, but not you?  You might want to reconsider.

BioMom:  “I changed my name as fast as I could.  There’s no way I’m going to keep the last name of that jerk.  And I can’t wait until my daughters get married so they don’t have to have that last name either!”

My response:  You may not want to say that out loud in front of your children.  Do you really want your child to think there’s shame associated with his/her last name??

Because I’m unmarried, I’ve taken my fair share of criticism for hyphenating my last name.  I’m not advocating a specific protocol for name changes in divorced/stepfamilies.  Personally, I hyphenated my name for my children and to have the flexibility to be called “Mrs. X” or “Mrs. Y” depending on which of my children I’m with.   My ex-husband, DH and my children are all happy with my decision.  But I’d like to know, how did you handle name changes in your family?  Was it even an issue?

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8 Responses to “What’s in a (last) name?”

  1. Rachel June 9, 2010 at 7:10 am #

    I was leery about taking my husband’s first name and just dropping mine. That was just newleywed jitters though I guess. I had never even wanted to get married or have kids. But then met my husband and things changed. I love having his last name and love that I share it with him, my stepdaughter and our son.

    After four years of marriage I know that his last name has become my identity and if anything (knock on wood) happened I would still carry his last name esp because of our kids but also because this is me now.

    Of course we would have preferred the ex drop his last name asap but she got pregnant 3 weeks after they separated by another guy and I know she would have looked like a total hussy for having two kids with two different last names that didn’t share hers. So while I wasn’t happy about her still carrying it (esp since they were married only a year) I did understand. Of course she did just get married and took this other guys last name. So now she has two kids with two different last names that don’t share hers. Hey she made the bed……..

  2. Deesha June 9, 2010 at 8:52 am #

    Let’s see…marriage #1, it was a given that I would take my husband’s last name. My maiden name became my middle name. When I divorced, it was very important for me to return to my maiden name. Marriage #2: I have kept my maiden name, partly because I’m not into the reasoning behind the name change thing (though I don’t judge), and partly because I didn’t my daughters to question why I chose to have the same last name as my husband and stepdaughters, but not theirs.

    However, I still send email from my original account in which the addy includes my first married name. That’s about laziness more than anything else, lol.

  3. Pixie June 9, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    I did NOT want to change my name the first time I got married, and I got railroaded into it by my family and my first husband. And, to be quite honest, it was a name I didn’t like. It was from a different country than my own last name, and it changed my whole identity (and, after years and years of developing into someone who finally liked herself, that was hard to swallow). I was willing to hyphenate, but that was vetoed just as firmly. After my divorce from him, I was eager to get back my OWN name. I thought about hyphenating then, to share a name with DD, but, honestly, I really, really wanted to get rid of that last name, based mainly on HATING the way it sounded with my given name (and it was even dumber when used with both given AND maiden name; sounded like a dolphin!

    Flash forward to meeting DH. He and I were not going to marry. And then we decided to. And I wasn’t going to add his name at all. And then I did. After a hyphen, where I can use it or not, as I see fit. And I’m comfortable with this. I *can* share a name with my boys (SS and DS), or I can not. My name, my choice.

  4. Teri June 9, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    I was happy to take my husband’s name and drop my maiden name completely. Neither of us have an ex-spouse so that part is moot.

    However the part that bothers me/us is that when my stepson was born bm gave him HER (maiden) name instead of my husband’s last name. He went that way until he was 3 when Allen finally got a court order to legally change my stepson’s name to her maiden name hyphen hubby’s last name. She fought tooth and nail about it too, even though she was married to someone else and no longer carried the name herself! Grr. She CLAIMS that she wanted him to only have her maiden name because of the fact that her dad was a male slut (my words) and has all these kids but none of them have his name and she wanted my stepson to carry on that family name because no one else would. Ok….Whatever….

    Fast forward 8 years from court order… She now has 3 children (stepson, his half sister , and his half brother ) and my stepson is the ONLY one with her maiden name at ALL!!! Oh and she STILL hasn’t changed my stepson’s name at places like his doctor and so forth… We just got a bill from when she took him to the hospital (our insurance is primary so we got bill) and it still just has First name, Middle initial, Her maiden name…..

  5. Amy June 9, 2010 at 9:22 am #

    It can be a true mess, huh? My mom remarried when I was 5. Shortly after, I’m still not sure how or really why, I started going by my stepdads last name in school. My dad was still around and active in my life. It stuck and years later when I turn 16 I’m using my birth last name again. Then, 16 is when you apply for your SS number. So, throughout high school I had two last names. Talk about confusing. Married at 19 (2 kids), divorced at 30, remarried at 36. If I wanted everyone that has ever known me to be able to find me I would be using 4 last names. AND they are all long, difficult to spell and pronounce.

    Whew!!! 🙂

  6. Stepmom Central June 9, 2010 at 9:22 am #

    Oh wow Brigette, this has been an issue in my marriage but not a big one, just funny you blogged on this. In my situation BM kept DH’s last name to be outright spiteful and she copped to it as well. She said outright that she liked having DH’s name because it pissed him off. When I got married to him, I didnt know how I felt changing my last name. … See MoreMy mother gave me her maiden name and even though she eventually married she always kept her maiden name as well and eventually hyphenated. She passed away & I always felt that my last name was one of the only ways I had to hold on to her so I kept it. I started hyphenating as well. When I go to my son’s and SD’s school they refer to me by DH’s last name and that is less confusing.

    I have always been irritated by the fact that BM kept his last name and always put people under the impression that they were still married. I guess in this situation I am the petty stepmom LOL but that’s how I feel. Years have gone by and even after she was married she continued to use her ex husbands name. She just recently changed it. Now it doesn’t bother me, I still go by my maiden name and my husband is cool with that.

    Sometimes its ok to be different! Names don’t make marriage just like blood doesn’t make a family. Good Blog! I always love your point of view please continue to share your blog links!

  7. Jennifer June 9, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    My husband is a dual citizen and has one legal last name in the U.S. and another legal last name in the other country (which is where we met). He and I, along with his daughter, were going to change all of our last names to the non-U.S. last name since that is more in line with their identity. However, the huge hassle and expense of doing this has put it on the back burner. Finally, after being married nearly a year I’ve gotten a certified copy of our marriage license and plan to assume his American last name. I’m tired of signing my maiden name because it doesn’t feel like we’re a family. It doesn’t reflect the commitment we made to get married or the commitment I made to help raise his child. I don’t like that fractured feeling. Call it semantics if you’d like, but it can be a bit unsettling to have a different name than your family. BioStep – I totally get what you are saying here.

  8. Erin June 21, 2010 at 6:34 am #

    I may sound like a self-righteous bitch for asking this, but “Really? Stepmoms are getting upset that the bio-mom/ex still has the same last name as her ex/her kids?”

    Ladies!!!! It’s time to move on and find something to be happy about other than a woman you can’t control holding on to a name. If she’s doing that while feeding the kids a line about getting back with their dad, that’s one thing, but if she’s doing it because it’s a complicated mess to change your name back to your maiden name and because she wants to have the same name as her kids then let her!!!! Geesh!

    ::Getting off high horse now::

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