Whose Last Name Is It, Anyway?

By Kelsey Hale-Eden

One of my first realizations growing up was of the difference of the “Male” and “Female” roles. I noticed that I was always asked to go into the kitchen to help cook while my “male” cousins got to go outside and play. I noticed that after meals, the “males” would go to the living room to watch T.V. while the “women” were expected to clean the kitchen. I noticed that I was shushed for being too loud while my “male” cousins were allowed to scream their heads off. Noticing these behaviours became part of me deciding who I didn’t want to be. 

I grew up in South Texas with my Mom’s side of the Family where strict, southern values had decided the rules long before I came along. We went to Church twice a week. The women did all of the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing because the men worked. But, in my family, all of the women had full-time jobs yet they were still expected to be the “caretakers” of the home. 

I became the problem child because I refused to accept those gender stereotypes. I would try to sit down with the males in the living room but quickly got in trouble “for not doing my part”. I would question everything and get threatened with a “spanking” for being inquisitive.  I became the rebel child with the crazy ideals about equality between the sexes when I was in elementary school. Looking back, I think this realization shaped me into the person I am today. Positively and negatively. 

Marriage has always been a touchy subject because of how I grew up. I didn’t ever think I would want to get married because marriage seemed to me how women got trapped into their gender roles. I blamed the women in my family rather than society for making this their norm. So while the other little girls would talk about their dream weddings, I would do everything I could to avoid the subject. I can’t say that my attitude towards marriage would change over the next twenty years. 

As an adult, I still did everything to shun my family’s questions about my life, especially romantic ones. I never introduced people I was dating unless it was serious. I knew it would lead to pestering about marriage. I knew I wasn’t alone in this sentiment. There’s only a million movies where young people in their twenties are stressed out by society constantly asking them when they’re getting married. This bred negativity into my interactions anytime marriage was mentioned. This started to spread outside of my family to interactions with friends and co-workers. 

The biggest debate I would get into? The tradition of taking the male’s last name for heterosexual couples. To me, this tradition went hand-in-hand with male toxicity because that’s what I had seen growing up in my family. I saw the tradition for where it had started. The tradition stems from an age when marriage was used as an alliance to combine the trades and wealth of two families. The male would normally trade livestock, money or goods to enter into marriage with the female. Therefore, she became his property and was branded with his name. I didn’t  understand why women were still opting to take the male’s last name in this century and why it was still so common. I was mis-informed of their intentions and wrongly judgemental of their decisions because I never stopped to listen to why they didn’t share the same perspective as me. 

As much as I dislike the concept of marriage, there’s a reason it exists. Marriage creates this invisible line that can create some issues if you’re on the non-married side of it. If your partner is in the hospital, you can’t see them if you don’t have that marriage certificate. Even if you’ve been together for over a decade. If you’re not married, you can’t add your partner to your insurance. If something fatal happens to your partner, you don’t have the right to any of their belongings. Even if the belongings are in the home that the two of you shared. This invisible line has been quite the heart breaker for a long time thanks to our “modern” laws. Especially impacting the gay community who couldn’t even legally marry until 2015. 

I found myself changing my view in an unexpected way thanks to that invisible line. The year was 2019.  I had been in a committed and happy relationship with Anthony for over four years. Family asked us constantly if we were going to get married and we shrugged them off. We were in our own little bubble and didn’t feel like we had to conform to what society wanted to be happy. That was until Anthony brought up the fact that he would be turning 25 at the end of 2020 and that started the mind spiral. Like most people in their early twenties, Anthony was still on his mother’s insurance because his employer didn’t provide good insurance. Anthony has serious asthma and needs the access that great insurance can give to inhalers without breaking the bank. So this was a prevalent worry in the back of his mind at all times. I happen to work for a company that provides amazing insurance but I hardly ever use it due to not having a serious ailment. So my first thought is why don’t I just add him to my insurance? That seems normal, right?

You can assume that we were immediately tripped up by that invisible line. Which brought up that question of marriage in a way that we had always shrugged off. We assumed that we didn’t need marriage because it might sour what we already have without the strings attached. Through talking about it, we discovered that we were already committed in the way that marriage commits two people. We had already combined some bills together in the way that marriage, legally, ties finances together. We had already been building our lives together without the ties of marriage. But we still hit the invisible line without that marriage certificate. So, we decided, together, that maybe marriage was the logical next step for us. We picked out engagement rings together and proposed to each other at our special place. Then, we planned to legally tie ourselves to each other on our sixth anniversary in 2021. Something that had been so scary just seemed right all of a sudden. He was right. 

As a notorious “marriage hater”, I caught a lot of flack for “changing my mind”. I wouldn’t say I changed my mind. I think that my eyes were opened to the benefits of marriage rather than the drawbacks that I had only seen growing up. The biggest question I was subjected to? Will you be changing your last name? To be expected, of course. Anthony and I spent several months trying to decide how we wanted to approach the last name issue. I knew that I didn’t want to take his last name. Anthony didn’t expect that of me. Instead, we went through the options for both changing our last names to one that we could share. We discussed combining our last names with a hyphen. We toyed with the idea of creating a new last name altogether. We sifted through the pros and cons for each option and, finally, landed on the option of hyphenating both of our last names as “Hale-Eden”. Of course this decision was made early on so that wedding invitations could reflect our choice to not cause any confusion. 

The idea of both of us changing our last names hit our families like a tornado. On multiple occasions, we had to explain why it was important for both of us to make this decision together. Since we’ve never been traditional, I don’t know why it came as a surprise. I think it’s because over 70% of women, in heterosexual relationships, still choose to take thier male partner’s last name. We got a variety of reactions. Some people were supportive. Some people needed us to explain our reasoning multiple times before they would drop the subject. Some people still don’t understand how we can separate from tradition at all. But, every single person gave us the chance to explain our choice. 

Going through this process opened my eyes up to the close-minded behaviour I had displayed in the past. I was very openly judgemental towards other women because I assumed they were repeating the mistakes of their matriarchs. I assumed that everyone had grown up in the family environment I had. It was hard for me to imagine wanting to uphold the tradition because I didn’t know of very many happy marriages and I thought the main reason was because the women didn’t have any independence within their marriages. The women I knew were servants to their marriages. It wasn’t until I opened myself up to talking to other women about their experiences growing up that I realized how independent a woman can be in marriage. I discovered friends whose fathers stayed home instead of their mothers. I discovered friends whose Mothers, clearly, ran the show. I discovered traditional people with equal relationships. I discovered what positive relationships look like and why women would want to uphold the tradition. They had great influences in the way I had negative ones. It was through communication that we began to understand each other’s views on this very miniscule subject that could cause such a stir. 

I realized the error of my own ways by talking to other women, rather than just assuming I knew what was best for all. As much as I thought I was being a “Feminist,” I was just repeating the mistakes of my family by openly judging the more traditional women for their choices. Women need to support women. Period. Communication will always open more eyes than judgement. 

So, I decided to present a couple of the perspectives I had gathered that really opened up my mind to some of the options that exist whether someone decides to change their last name or not. Each of these women is in a heterosexual relationship and shared their perspective on the Last Name quandary. I sent them a form with all of the same questions and have kept all of their answers exactly as answered. This decision belongs to the couple involved and no one else. We should all respect each other and each other’s decisions. Women judging other Women is so last century. Let’s keep it there. The last name decision belongs to the couple and no one else. Let’s start respecting each other’s choices. Women judging other women is so last century. Let’s keep it there. 

Name: LeeAnn Lamb

Age: 24

What do you think of the tradition of taking the Male’s last name? 

“I’ve never thought much about it. Before meeting my husband, I never really thought about marriage or anything, and once we got engaged it just felt right for us for me to take his last name.” 

What did you and your partner talk about regarding last names once married? 

“We didn’t talk a whole lot about it. I have some weird trauma around last names, so being a part of a unit that shared a last name became important to me. It allowed me to not only unify with him, but his whole family who had been very kind and loving towards me.” 

What was the ultimate decision?

“I took my husband’s last name.”

Any Pros/Cons? 

Pros: “I love that our family shares a last name and that our children will all share a name. I also really like signing cards “the lambs” and drawing a small sheep.” 

Cons: “the process of changing my name was relatively easy. I don’t see any cons tbh” 

How has your decision been received by family/friends/strangers?

“I think it’s so normative in our culture in this area that no one has really said anything about it 

Extra: So I was born LeeAnn Williams. My birth father left when I was very young, but I had his last name for the first few years of my life. When my mom married again, I ended up legally changing my name to LeeAnn Morrow at 18. I didn’t want to keep my birth fathers name because it brought me so much shame as no one else around me had that last name. Actually, sharing his name for so long made me feel really bad about myself. When I did legally change my name, I took my step dads middle name as well. I knew it was important for me that everyone in my family had the same last name (because of how weird I always felt as a kid about having a different one). So I was able to honor both of the men in my life by taking my husband’s last name.”

Name: Alex DeGuerre

Age: 27 (married at 20)

What do you think of the tradition of taking the Male’s last name? 

“I know, historically, it marks the woman’s role as property to the man. I also know it’s still a norm in our culture today.

As for how I feel about it, I initially wanted to take my husband’s last name (because it’s the norm) but the closer we got to the wedding, the more anxious I felt about it. Any time I would talk to married female relatives about it, they ALL said that was normal. But I felt horrible. I didn’t want to start my marriage off doing something that made me feel anxious and my husband was very understanding.”

What did you and your partner talk about regarding last names once married? 

“When I was engaged, the closer I got to my wedding date, the more awkward I felt about it. I had to give up a name I’d had for 20 years? Why am I the only one who has to do it? My then fiance agreed with me and we spent a month deciding on what name we would take TOGETHER.”

What was the ultimate decision?

“At first, we considered hyphenating our names but we decided it just didn’t look right for us. So we combined our last names to make a new word!”

Any Pros/Cons? 

Pros: “Going through the name changing thing together, creating a new tradition together.

To us, combining our names felt like we were honoring both sides of our family and carrying both lineages at the same time felt important.”

Cons: “It seems to be harder to change names for husbands. He actually had to jump through more hoops than I did with changing my name.”

How has your decision been received by family/friends/strangers?

“My family couldn’t have cared less about it. They had always expected me to change my name. My husband’s family hated the idea. It took them a long time, even after we were married, to get over it. His grandfather in particular had a hard time.”

Anonymous: 

Age: 30

What do you think of the tradition of taking the Male’s last name? 

 “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it and I’m not opposed to it. For some, it may give them feelings of belonging and closeness. For others, such as myself, it doesn’t foster those feelings. Either way, I think it’s important that everyone respects one another’s choices.”

What did you and your partner talk about regarding last names once married? 

“We didn’t really talk about it much. We were both content with not changing our names and didn’t feel like there was much to discuss.”

What was the ultimate decision?

“We decided to keep our own last names.”

Any Pros/Cons? 

Cons: “no cool, monogram decorations or “Mr. & Mrs.” decorations; medical offices constantly ask, “Is this your husband?”, when filing insurance.”

Pros: “not having to switch my name on 50,000 documents.”

How has your decision been received by family/friends/strangers?

“No one has ever really asked or confronted us about it. We sometimes receive mail addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. So&So”, and we just shrug it off.” 

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