Why I won't be changing my name: The Last Name Project

My mornings have a regular routine - I get up, make a cup of tea, and drink that on the sofa whilst reading a magazine, something light to ease me into the day.  This is followed by a shower, and then I turn on my laptop, eat a bowl of cereal and spend some time catching up on emails and blog posts before I start my work.  I'll often bookmark a few sites to go back to at lunch time, or add a few things to an ideas list, to do list etc.

This morning, I came across The Last Name Project and it really struck a chord with me.  It's a series on a feminist blog: women are encouraged to get in contact with their stories about how they did(n't) change their surnames when they got (or are planning to get) married. There are quite a few contributions from a variety of women, from different backgrounds, and all the ones I've read have been quite insightful.

I'm at an age (late twenties) when lots of my friends are getting engaged and married, as well as attending weddings - this past August bank holiday weekend my Facebook news feed was completely dominated by wedding photos!  I love a good wedding, I've been to a few now, including being a bridesmaid last year.  I'm not against marriage in any way, I'm just not sure if it's something I want to do any time soon.  (Also, I don't want to be Mrs (Ben's surname) as that's his mum!)  What has been interesting is seeing what happens with the couple's surname(s) post-wedding.

I have no intention of ever changing my surname.  I like it. My first name and surname are both short (my middle name is longer, but I rarely use that, just the initial) and so it fits neatly on bank cards, envelopes, online forms.  It's got a balance to it, and I genuinely like my name (and the spelling of Amy!).  My parents did well.  It's not a difficult name to spell, it's reasonably common but not too common, it is me.  I've had it for a long time now, we go together.  

My parents divorced when I was in primary school, and both my parents are now happily married to my step-parents.  My mum changed her surname post-divorce, and then changed it when she got remarried.  Both my brother and I kept our dad's surname.  I haven't had the same surname as my mum for about 20 years now, but we are incredibly close.  I don't know if it caused any problems when my brother and I were younger (parent having different surname from children) but having different surnames doesn't change our relationship.

Now that I'm a doctor, my surname is even more important.  My doctorate is in my current surname, so if I changed my surname, I would lose that connection.  I've not (yet!) published any academic papers, but I know plenty of women who have - if they change their surname they either need to keep their maiden name for work, or change it for everything and then there is a break between work published under their maiden name and work published in their married name.  If I want to research a particular author, I type their name into a search box, and it comes up with their work. What if I don't know they've published under two names?   I might miss out on a specific publication.  This is not something that would necessarily happen to male academics.  I do know a few ladies who got married (and changed their name) before they finished their PhD, though, so their name can easily be the same for personal and work reasons.

One of my best friends got married last year, and she's changed her surname to his.  His views are quite traditional in this respect, and it was important to him that they share the same surname (his).  They also want to have children quite soon, and it was important for them that the children have the same name as the parents.  Whilst my friend didn't particularly like his surname (although she tells me now it's growing on her!) she knew how important it was to him, and so she changed her name.  I think she's going to get her choice for the child's first name, I'll have to wait and see what about that!  She is now Mrs [surname] and it still feels odd when I send her some post and I have to concentrate on writing the address - I am good at remembering the title, but sometimes I start writing her maiden name instead!

Every single married female friend I have has changed her surname.  In fact most of the people I see on Facebook (so friends of friends) have taken the groom's surname.  A friend's brother did recently take a new surname, hyphenating both bride's and groom's names, but that's the only time I've seen that happen.  When I've spoken to married friends about this, all of them have said they want children, and that it's important for children to have the same name as their parents, they want to be a family.  Which frustrates me sometimes, as there is an implication here (although I know they don't mean it) that my childhood was different in some way, and less 'family' as my family has different surnames. Alongside this, I have never wanted children - I told my mum when I was five that I didn't want to have children, and I haven't changed my mind! So I don't need to consider other people, as it were, it is just how I feel about my name.

I understand that a mother and father having different surnames does make it trickier for deciding what name to give their children - I know of two academics, who are married but both with their own surnames.  Their first child took dad's surname, second child took mum's surname, does this mean they can only have an even number of children? I'm still curious as to how they decided which surname went to the first child, was it a coin toss, a discussion, what if they had twins, or triplets?!

Don't get me wrong, I completely respect the right of others to choose what they do with their name. It is their name after all.  What I don't like is the assumption that of course the couple will have the groom's surname.  When I passed my PhD, I mentioned to a family friend (a very good family friend) how excited I was to be changing all of my ID.  She then asked if it was worth it, as I'd be changing my whole name, not just my title, when I marry Ben in a few years. She was teasing me (I knew from her tone of voice, but I can't convey this in text) but there are just so many assumptions in here.  One, that because I've been with Ben for several years now, marriage is definitely on the cards as that's what couples do.  Two, that I'd change my name.  Three, that there's no point going through the hassle of changing my title now, when I'd have to do it all again in a matter of years.  I'm not engaged!  Who mentioned marriage?  Why can't I enjoy being a 'Dr' as that's who I am now rather than stay 'Miss' until I get married, and then do I ever get to use Dr or do I become a Mrs?  I worked damn hard for that doctorate, I'm not missing an opportunity to have it on my bank cards!

Many of my female friends love being a Mrs, and not changing their surname didn't occur to them.  If they're happy with this, that is absolutely fine, I want my friends to be happy, it's just assumptions that frustrate me.  One of my closest friends is gay, and in a long term committed relationship with his partner.  They have tentatively talked about marriage, now that it's legal and a genuine option for them, but they don't know what to do about surnames.  I think the current suggestion is to pick something completely new and different, to reflect their new chapter, but they both have strong cultural backgrounds and identities (their current surnames reflect this) so they are still very undecided.

Another friend got married earlier this year, she has a doctorate and a developing career, and her husband has his own business - as such, both their names are incredibly important to them.  (Their surnames, amusingly, are incredibly similar (think Cook and Took, although of course these are not their surnames), and most of their friendship group wanted them to double-barrel their names, just for the amusement value, but for some reason they didn't agree with our suggestion!)  They were planning on keeping their own surnames, and just working out what to do about children's surnames in a few years when they actually have children. However, she's since found it easier to change her name, at least in some situations.  

Etiquette wise, post is traditionally addressed to Mr and Mrs Surname, but what happens when one is a doctor? Does Dr come before Mr?  When I was starting my PhD I shared an office with several other PhD students, and one day we were visited by a former office occupant, who had since graduated and was now doing some work at the university.  We kept addressing her as Doctor, as she'd graduated and the novelty of being a doctor doesn't rub off very quickly, and she told us how she'd been very annoyed recently, when she and her husband had received an electricity bill addressed to Dr and Mrs Surname.  Her husband is not a doctor, she is.  She was angry that she'd changed her details with the energy supplier, and yet the assumption was that he was the one with the doctorate.  Of course, admin errors happen all the time, and it was a genuine mistake easily rectified, but there is an assumption hidden within, that it is the man who has a different title.  Another assumption is that if the groom changed his surname to the bride's, people they met in the future are still likely to assume the bride changed her name to his (for how many men do actually change their surname?), unless this is constantly explained, which isn't always practical.

I've spent a really interesting morning reading through women's stories about (not) changing their name, it's good to see different viewpoints, and how other people have reacted to whatever the couple decided.  For some individuals, it's even been a deal breaker to (not) change their name.

I'm not too sure where I'm going with this blog post...think I will leave it there!  I would be interested in hearing what other people think, though.  It's made for a morning of interesting reading!


  1. I find names interesting as a subject in general and the surnames/marriage thing is a part of that. I, too, have heard of tales like yours. My friend recently filled out a form for her and her fiancé and was annoyed to learn that there was no option for Dr and Mr at all. All other combinations were possible - Mr & Mrs, Mr & Miss, Dr & Mrs, Dr & Miss...but the idea that you couldn't even choose Dr & Mr just shows how much it seeps into people's assumptions.

    I ike the idea of mish-mashing names, Smith and Miller becoming Smiller, for example, or Dawn Porter becoming O'Porter when she married Chris O'Dowd.

    Ultimately, I think - think of the kids, if you intend to have them. I don't have strong feelings either way about changing my name, secretly I think it would depend if it would make a good made-up name together, but I think I would like my hypothetical children to have the same names as their siblings, even if their parents did not have the same names as each other.

    1. I like mish-mashing of names too - there's so much possibility, it's just really interesting to see what people think and do. This is what I have spent my day looking at!

  2. Just wrote a long comment and blogger ate it, boo! Anyway, I wholeheartedly agree. It drives me mad seeing friend after friend get married and change their name unquestioningly. In many cases these are self-professed feminists and they never seem to even consider keeping their name or blending them. Grrr, it can make me quite angry. And I have even been known to rant (quietly!) at their weddings about it. I'm a bad friend!

    1. Boo to comments being eaten! Weddings can be a bit of a minefield...I was at one once and overheard two older ladies talking (I had no idea who these ladies were, or their relationship to the married couple) about how 'glad' they were the bride was taking her husband's name like she is 'supposed' to, unlike some young women today who are just 'trying to be different'. Argh! Completely missing the point! Names are too important not to be thought about - by all means, change yours, just don't do it because you're 'supposed' to!

    2. Yes - fair enough to think about it and discuss it and decide to change it. But not one of my friends did this, it was just an automatic thing.

  3. Hello! I've just popped over from Words that can only be your own, Janet ^ posted a link to you.

    This is a great post and I completely agree with you about people assuming. I got married just over a month ago and I'm not taking my husband's name, he's taking mine (he actually asked if he could - I had no idea that it was coming)! He had a few reasons why he wanted to change and I totally respect and understand why. I told a few friends that he intended to do this but I still got cards and presents (which were v.pretty and thoughtful) emblazoned with Mr and Mrs (his surname) - from my close friends! I was kinda annoyed that they'd just assumed, plus their pretty papercut cards and presents were kinda voided. I still haven't told them yet but they'll see when they get their thank you cards...

    Also I'm totally with you on the balance thing. I was pretty chuffed when my husband said he'd have my name as my first and surname both have 5 letters and two syllables which pleases me immensely :)

    1. Thanks for popping over! It's great that you two are doing what's right for you, which must make it even more annoying that people have assumed you're doing something else! I always check people's names, if I'm spending money on getting something personalised then I want to be right.

      Balance is important indeed - glad that's it not just me!


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