Jewish Journal

What did you say your name was?

Newlywed dilemma: take his name?

by Leisah Woldoff

Posted on Oct. 12, 2006 at 8:00 pm

After the ceremony and after the reception, when all the guests have gone and the tables are cleared, there you are: Mr. and Mrs.
The next morning, the groom wakes up with his name intact. However, the bride wakes up with a different identity.
Every few days during the wedding planning process, I had a different obsession. A few days after the proposal, it was setting the right date. As plans moved along, the focus shifted to location, invitations, food, etc. And then, about a week before the wedding, it was the name change.
I had no problem with starting the day as a "Ms." and ending it a "Mrs."; I looked forward to it. But, while Woldoff is a very nice surname, I'd become a little apprehensive about changing my name.
Maybe it was all the work involved. I just wanted to enjoy married life after the wedding. But no, I had to plan on conquering yet another checklist: driver's license, passport, Social Security card, credit cards, etc.
It wasn't such an issue changing my name when I first married in my early 20s. I'd never had a business card with my maiden name, much less multiple e-mail addresses or a byline showing up on Google search results. I've had long-lost friends find me through the Internet because they knew that one characteristic -- my name. It's almost as if a part of me is being erased or like I'm going into some witness protection program.
But what are the options?
Some people choose to hyphenate, but I didn't want to do that; since Namm wasn't my maiden name, it would have been like carting along baggage from my previous marriage. Plus, there's the issue of having a name that's different from your children's, which can get confusing (not to mention the possibility of giving your grandchildren a multihyphenated name).
Some couples share their last name -- the wife adds on the husband's name and the husband adds his wife's so they have a dual last name that includes both. But again, that wouldn't have worked in my case because I didn't want to retain my previous husband's name -- I kept it after our divorce only because I didn't want to go through the trouble of changing it again.
Sometimes people just combine their names to make up a new name, but being founders of a family name sounds like too much responsibility, and we'd lose a connection to the past.
That'll also be very confusing for future genealogists trying to research family roots.
While about 90 percent of American women assume their husband's surname, there are still a vocal few who perceive it as "archaic," which I discovered when I came across one community blog, MetaFilter.com. On this site, there was a whole discussion about this topic, ideas that I had never even considered. Although it came through in the postings that it was a rather liberal site, it did bring up some interesting options.
Husband takes wife's name; husband and wife keep their own name, then combine the two for their children's last names; each spouse keeps their own last name then the sons take their father's surname and the daughters take their mother's; wife keeps name, gives children her name as a middle name.
According to a study by Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin, based on Massachusetts birth records and marriage announcements in The New York Times, the number of college-educated women keeping their name dropped from 23 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2000. Explanations in articles analyzing this study ranged from a shift back to traditionalism to the fact that it's just easier in the long run.
After the wedding, I decided to take the name of my husband, both personally and professionally. Since Judaism teaches that through marriage man and woman become one, we might as well have the same last name.
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