Women Changing Names, Part 2. The Things I Didn’t Want to Hear

Recap: In the previous post, I described my project of asking my women friends why they did/did not change their names when they got married.

The first batch fell right in line with what I wanted to hear.

Then, I heard some different points of view.

Didn’t Think About It


Beth said,

I didn’t even really think about it. It was what women were supposed to do or so I thought. My MIL would have had a coronary if I kept my own name. 
I got married in 1991.

 Sally said,

When I got married, 48 years ago, almost everyone took their husband’s name…unless they were famous in their field. I was too young to have any name recognition, so went along with tradition, without a doubt in my head.

Jenny said,

I changed. Never occurred to me not to. And his was more common.

Went with the Flow


Betsy said,

As the months passed [before my marriage] and I practiced [the idea of keeping my own name] … I also saw these same women struggling to explain their choice (“yes, I am married, I just chose to keep my name….”, “you can address it to both names”, “you spell it with a hyphen…. a hypen… that little line….”)

Did I want to take on a new explanation for the rest of my life?  To what end?  To wrestle with maintaining my identity?  My mother had a saying for these kinds of life dilemmas, “nuts to that.” I know who I am. The world can decide — conformist or lazy, I’m good with it.

Lauren said,

Very simply…..P___________ is a lot easier to say and spell than K_________ [really long name].

Patsy said,

[After initially keeping my name]…I just figured it made sense to change it, to make life’s transactions easier, no explaining why we had different last names.

One factor also, was that [my stepson] had four parents with different last names. His mom went back to her maiden name, his mom’s significant other (they are now married) had another last name and then me with K___ and [my husband] with W____. It’s a lot easier to deal with any kind of authority situations, if you have the same last name as the kid!

Cathy said,

My choice was pretty simple — I was more than confident I wouldn’t forget who I am, or from whence I came genetically, intellectually, or culturally, simply by adding on to my name. I kept both names while I worked in NYC, and when we moved to the heartland and had kids it was simpler just to use my married name. Although, I have to add, that I think kids are much less hung up on all this and don’t see the adoption of someone else’s last name as an eradication of self.



Jennifer said,

I was in law school when I got married and I remember having a lot of angst about whether I would change my name or not. The feminist in me demanded that I keep my own name and, therefore, my identity. But everyone I knew took their husband’s name.

Kathleen said,

I had a very hard time changing my name. I was one of four girls and very proud of my Irish heritage and without a brother -it would end with us. I knew I was marrying the right person and making the right choice. Truly- the only thing that bothered me was losing my name, my identity, and more importantly my father’s name. That being said I came from a very traditional family where a wife was to take her husband’s name.

It’s All Patriarchy Anyway


Jennifer said,

My future mother-in-law (of all people) said something to me that helped me decide. She told me that she didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about – really “you are just exchanging one man’s name for another.”

Telaina said,

I thought about the different things I learned about feminism in school and it seemed to me I could either choose the patriarchy of my father’s name, or the patriarchy of my husband’s name. Choosing my father’s name seemed to look toward the past—what my family once was. Choosing my husband’s name seemed to look toward the future—what our family would be. I felt like it was pretty much patriarchy one way or the other.

The Maiden Name as Middle Name Solution

Betsy added,

My mother … chose to keep her maiden name – she simply swapped it out for her middle name.  So bold! …  The best of both.  Isn’t that what I wanted to be?  So that’s the route I chose.


Kathleen also said,

My sisters and I all decided to adhere to the tradition but to also change our middle to our maiden name. Although legally I am now a S___, I sign every document including my middle (maiden) name in hopes of clinging to a bit of my past.

Telaina too,

I had never liked my middle name J__, so I took my dad’s last name M___ as my legal middle name and took my husband’s name. I share the same last name as my children and it has all worked out for me.

Naomi had the same idea,

My compromise was to keep my middle initial for my middle name (D for Danielle) AND a middle initial for my maiden name (Z).  I went to the Social Security office and officially changed my name to N____D.Z. W____.

Sally as well,

Now, that I’ve published my first novel, I started using my maiden name as a middle name, and will continue to do from this time on. And also on Facebook, so the friends of my youth can find me.

Betsy, Kathleen, Telaina, Naomi, and Sally decided to use their maiden names as middle names.

Here’s what strange: They, and many other of my friends, introduced this notion as if it were novel and feminist idea.

But it’s not.

For a woman to use her maiden name as her middle name is, in a fact, a very old-fashioned tradition.

How do I know?

Because I can read embroidery.


That’s the edge of my grandmother’s handkerchief. She was born in the 1890s as Marie Brady.

The letters are MBM, which stands for Marie Brady Murray. (I can assure you this staunch Catholic woman and mother of 11 was no feminist.)

As Grandmamma would tell you, the first name-maiden name-husband’s name convention was what you traditionally did when you got married.

I submit miles of trousseau linen into evidence.

What was up here? These smart, capable women messaging me didn’t know the history of women’s names. Or even a 1950 version of Emily Post.

Truth be said, neither did I. I was a stone-cold expert at hand towels, doilies, and handkerchiefs. But how much else did I really know?

I asked myself some questions, and realized I didn’t have any of the answers:

  • What was the origin of the first, “Christian,” name?
  • What was the origin of the surname?
  • Have women always taken their husband’s names? Where and when did it originate?
  • Was it ever the law that a woman had to change her name when she got married?

Next up, the answers.

The Angry Blog.


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