Why Whether or Not I Change My Last Name is None of Your Business // Katie Hannah-Fisher

I got married last October. The most difficult decision I had to make throughout the whole process was what I was going to “do about” my last name. Growing up, I, like so many girls, was indoctrinated into the idea that I would take my future husband’s last name. As I became more aware of the antiquity of this practice, I grew more skeptical. I didn’t want people to think I was a poor unenlightened woman, nor did I want to hurt my fiancé and his family. He grew up learning the same traditions I had and I assumed that meant he expected me to take his last name.

I knew it would be a tough decision, but I had no idea how many people would be eager to help me make it. Most of my friends and family had strong opinions on the matter; sometimes even stronger than my own, apparently. I heard things like “You have to change your last name. What are you going to do- hyphenate?! That signature will take SO long!” I also heard, “You’re a feminist. You can’t change your name.” Somehow, being a woman and being a feminist put me into two opposing categories and I would never be able to fully satisfy both (or so I thought). Would changing my last name brand me as an anti-feminist? Would keeping my last name somehow make me less feminine or less devoted to my soon-to-be husband?

I had never wished for a stand-alone first name like Cher or Madonna more in my life. Finally, I decided to hyphenate my last name. My husband was content (and assured me that he would have been with whatever decision I came to) and I didn’t feel like I lost my credibility as either a feminist or as a woman. However, looking back, I can’t help but resent the whole decision making process. I can’t imagine how much more difficult and complicated this decision would be if I were anything but a heterosexual woman.

This tradition (not practiced everywhere in the world) was developed out of supposed necessity. Women, for all intents and purposes, were essentially property; of course they would need to be branded with their mister’s name (let’s remember that mister is a derivative of the word master, by the way). I hope my sarcasm is evident. This custom is so deeply engrained and persistent for a number of reasons. If a couple plans to have children, the common assumption is that they will take on the father’s last name. Regardless of the patriarchal roots of this tradition, I do want to have the same last name as my children. I want to be recognized as my husband’s wife, and for him to be recognized as my husband.

My proposed solution? Make whatever decision is right for you. Ignore those whose opinion doesn’t matter to you. Ignore this blog post if you don’t agree with it. Take his or her name if you want it. Ask him or her to take yours, and respect their answer. Hyphenate. Go crazy and create something new out of both of your maiden names. Do something no one has thought of. Whatever you choose, do it for you and your family. No decision you’ll come to will make you any less of a feminist, any less of a woman, or any less you.

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