On changing my last name...

Monday, March 10, 2014


 Picture taken by my lovely friend Denise

I've always had a little bit of a quasi-feminist edge and when we got married, I didn't take Stephen's last name. I wasn't 100% opposed to changing my name, but I also didn't want to change it right away. My last name is part of my identity, and I guess I needed some time to consider it. Also, I've worked hard for my M.D. and most of my medical school accomplishments are under my maiden name. At first I planned to hyphenate my last name, but the more I thought about it the more cumbersome it seemed (along with the fact that my unique and fairly long last name didn't mesh well with Stephen's traditional Irish name). And as I met more female physicians that kept their maiden name, I became more and more comfortable with just leaving my name as it was.

Stephen's family is pretty traditional so I mentioned it once but didn't talk much otherwise about it to them. It never bothered me when his family would send us mail addressed to us under Stephen's last name, since after all we are married. Sidenote though that I still don't understand why people address couples as Mr. and Mrs. husband's first and last name. Other relatives are very far on the traditional side and probably would have fallen over backwards if I had pushed the issue - I spent my in-law's wedding ceremony seething from my bridesmaid's position on the altar while the Lutheran pastor went on about how marriage is about wives obeying their husbands, serving them, etc. etc....and then was introduced as the pregnant wife at the wedding reception/asked how nursing school was going (the concept of female physicians is still foreign for some)...but I ramble. My family is also pretty traditional, but they know me well enough not to push the issue (yes I can be a little stubborn) although my fairly not-traditional uncle blatantly told me that he felt there was no reason for women not to change their name unless they were planning on a divorce (wow).

And you're probably wondering what Stephen thought of all of it, since his opinion obviously matters most. Sweet Stephen never once said that it bothered him, or really said much either way. He loves me for me, and ultimately he married me for me whether I took his last name or not (and he knew that I might not...actually I'm pretty sure that he thought I never would). But deep down, I can't help but think that he probably did hope/wish that I would eventually change my name...

The factor that pushed me to finally make a decision was when we found out about the baby. I always knew that I didn't want my children to have a different last name then me, or people to wonder if their parents were married because we had two different last names. I've heard of people hyphenating their children's last name, but like I already said, ours would be quite cumbersome. Plus, what if we had a daughter and she wanted to hyphenate her married name (triple last name?)

So last week I marched my pregnant self down to the Social Security office after work and changed my name. I decided that I wanted to keep my last name, but add it as a second middle name. This way I could still hold on to a little piece of my identity over the last 28 years and potentially use my maiden name professionally (although I don't know that I will, since Stephen's is much easier to pronounce). I expected to maybe feel a twinge of regret as I walked out with a piece of paper with my new last name on it, but instead I felt kind of liberated. And when I told Stephen, he didn't say much but his (a little shocked/surprised) smile said enough. He has made enough sacrifices for me (medical school, moving, now residency) that it felt good to something small for him...and ultimately, I did it for myself too.

13 comments:

  1. Fabulous discussion! I also ought about hyphenating my name, especially with the pressure from my dad who has no sons to carry on the name...it would have been 6 syllables of always mispronounced name, though. I actually have appreciated having a new last name as it mirrors what happens in marriage--some parts of your life change and become so entwined with your husbands that you're not sure where you stop and he starts, and some parts of your life stay the same :) Love how you're incorporating your maiden name as a second middle name!

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  2. "I spent my in-law's wedding ceremony seething from my bridesmaid's position on the altar while the Lutheran pastor went on about how marriage is about wives obeying their husbands, serving them, etc. etc.."

    I totally know the feeling. I attended a wedding like this last year and I was fidgeting with frustration the entire time. People still are OK with that?? UGH.

    People sometimes ask me (knowing I'm a feminist) if I would change my name. I'm like.. yea.. why wouldn't I? People still have the wrong view about "feminists"...

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  3. I changed my for the same reason to have the same last name and just in general as as a symbol of a family. I come from a culture women do not change their names after marriage, so it was an interesting concept to go through when I had to decide on the matter. I ended up making my last my my middle name, and I always write my entire name out where ever I go.

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  4. I'm a terrible procrastinator and still haven't changed my last name on my SS (I dread the long lines!), nursing license, and a couple of other things. It definitely isn't a simple thing to do! And that's really interesting what you said about keeping your maiden name as your middle name- my mom did the same thing and when I was younger I always thought that was what women did when they got married. I think it's such a neat idea. :)

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  5. I have been a little on the fence about changing my last name when we get married, but I think in the end I will. I might still use my maiden name professionally, but I'm still kinda traditional and I, too, worry about how having kids will complicate things.

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  6. My maiden name is now my middle name. (I dropped Kathleen, my old middle name.) I definitely agonized over it because my family is so loyal, but like you, I want our little family unit to share a last name to identify us. Our son almost got a second middle name of my maiden name, but I decided it sounded kind of ridiculous. It's still a big middle name contender for future kids!

    On wives obeying husbands... We used this bible passage at our wedding ceremony. Wives obey their husbands, BUT husbands must love their wives as Christ loves the church! People seem to like to leave that second part out!

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  7. Ok...did you sneak inside of my brain and write this post for me? I've had the exact same thought process about changing my name and my Steven (and his family) had the exact same attitude as your Stephen's. Anyways, I haven't actually gotten around to changing my yet (I'm waiting until after match) but this is basically my exact same story. Crazy!

    Also, will your diploma have your maiden name or your new changed name? We had to have ours in by March 1st so my diploma won't read my new name but hopefully my white coats next year will. :)

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  8. Nice and thoughtful post, Erika. Believe it or not, a lot of women in the medical field think about these things. I did, quite of my few friends did. Professionally, they are known under their maiden name. I thought about hyphenating.... but ultimately changing my last name to my husband's won. Reason was similar to yours: I want my kids to share the same last name as me. And through med school, my husband was with me as well. I always told him my MD diploma is as much as his as mine :)

    And guess what: great minds really do think alike (wink!) I kept my maiden name as my middle name. To keep that identity you know! haha.

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  9. I totally get your feelings on this. My husband and I have been married three and a half years and have a one year old daughter... And I still haven't changed my name. Total quasi feminist rebel, right here. Hah. I have to say that once I was pregnant I seriously considered changing last names out of a desire for family unity. But it still have yet to make the move, and I think part of it is because I absolutely detest the assumption that I took my husband's name- and so I'm doing my part to shake that assumption!
    I am on the opposite side of the coin as you though. My husband is MSIII and I've sacrificed a lot for him without much recognition (he of course appreciates it dearly but others really just lump me into HIS accomplishments as a "doctor's wife"). I think part of me feels like I need something of my own!

    Anyway, I'm rambling. But I so enjoyed reading your perspective on this. I hope you and baby are feeling well these days :)

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  10. Great post! Very well written

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  11. I feel like this post was made for me! Honestly, I can identify with everything you wrote about. I am also a medical student & about to be on Ob/Gyn resident. My husband and I have been married for almost 2 years, and I swore I was always going to keep my last name (for all the same reasons you wrote about). Over the last two years, however, I've been warming up to the idea, and with residency looming I've finally decided to make the leap to change my last name. I'm changing my middle name to my maiden name and have already asked for my diploma to reflect my new last name. Best of luck next week!!

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  12. I also changed my name late in my pregnancy. I, too, have all my professional credentials in my maiden name, but having a single family name was more important to me.

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  13. I am so glad to see someone else add their maiden last name as their second middle name! I came up with that solution after also not wanting to give up my original last name. It's like bringing in his family name for unity while not losing your own identity. Good for you for taking the time you needed to figure out what worked best.

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