To Change or Keep Your Last Name: Trusting Your Instincts
I was born and given the name Melanie Friedson which I lived with for 31 years. Then it was scheduled to be changed to Melanie Kotcher for about 20 minutes. Then it WAS changed to Melanie Friedson-Kotcher for about a year. And then I went through a very long process to eventually remove the hyphen and become Melanie Friedson Kotcher. Yup, true story (which I’ll get to a little later in the post).
It was quite a process not only going through the legal name change, but also trying to figure out exactly what my name should be.
What would sit well with me? What would I be happy with? Would my husband be okay with my decision? Am I offending my parents if I lose my maiden name? I’m the one who ultimately has to live with my name so I should be happy with whatever decision I make, right?
So many questions and things to ponder. Which is totally normal. We’re born with our names and for the most part, the idea of potentially changing it doesn’t come up until marriage. It’s kind of strange that we associate these random sequences of letters with our identity - but it makes total sense when you really think about it.
That isn’t to say everybody struggles with the name change part of marriage. Some people already know exactly what they would like to do and feel 100% comfortable with the decision and that’s really fantastic.
For those who may be feeling a little confused about what to do or how to feel about the name change, here’s my story.
My fiancé and I went down to the City Clerk’s office to get our marriage certificate about a month before our wedding day. When we finally went up to the counter, they told me I was only able to take my fiancé’s last name OR hyphenate our last names. I was so excited and eager to move on, so I quickly said I would take just his name and we went to leave. When we got outside, we were about to take a celebratory photo for social media (as you do), but I felt really queasy all of a sudden. It just hit me that “Friedson” was no longer going to be a part of my name - my identity. It didn’t sit well with me at all, to the point where I felt physically nauseous (no disrespect to “Kotcher” ;-). I told my fiancé how I felt so we went back inside and spoke with someone who suggested that I run over to the an office in another building and get the hyphen back. Which we did - right before the office closed for the evening. So then we went BACK to the City Clerk’s office to get our new certificate. And we finally took our photo. It was hours of stressful running back and forth during a work day and we just made it in time before both offices closed for the day. But I felt totally at ease and happy with my decision. (If only I knew to think it out a little more and do my “homework” before we went all the way downtown). I ultimately decided to move forward and legally remove the hyphen because I liked the idea of the two names being interchangeable. I felt like I was keeping “Friedson” almost as another middle name (I didn't want to change "Shoshana" which is my actual middle name). I mostly go by Melanie Kotcher now for ease (and I do really like my new last name), but holding onto “Friedson” makes me feel proud.
Now this isn’t to say that totally removing your last name should take away any of your personal identity or independence. Changing (or not changing) your name is a very personal decision. And it’s important to try not to feel any sort of pressure to justify your decision to friends and family.
You can take your partner’s last name, keep your last name, add a hyphen, remove a hyphen, or nowadays, some husbands are even taking their wives last names. And of course, this doesn’t just apply to straight couples. There are really no rules anymore and every person should go with his or her gut - you’ll know what feels right.
It’s also important to try not to overthink the decision. I remember going back and forth in my head wondering whether or not I should keep the hyphen. After weeks of indecisiveness, I finally took a minute, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and decided to go with what felt right. Sometimes the fear of what other people might think is what holds us back.
If you want to change your last name, great. If you want to keep your last name, great. If it feels right to YOU, go with it, and wear that name like a badge of honor. The important thing to remember is that you’re about to start an entirely new chapter with the love of your life.
Here are 4 women’s reasons for why they decided to change or not change their names when they got married:
Why Changed Name:
“My husband and I are a team, so having the same last name made us feel more like a unit. I took my husband's last name, but also legally changed my middle name to my maiden name to keep it part of my identity. Whenever I write my full signature I feel a sense of self mixed with the joy of being married to the love of my life.” - Erica, Long Island City
“I struggled with the decision to change my name. I had always thought I would drop my maiden name when the right guy came along, but when it came time to get married at 30 once I already had an established adult life and career, making the leap took some extra soul searching. Ultimately, I decided to change my name as a way to establish our new family together. I knew we wanted kids, and I wanted us all to have the same name. I also think taking his last name was important to my husband and his family, and keeping my own name was less important to me. Marriage is about making compromises, but this is one that I didn't mind giving on.” -Amanda, Manhattan
Why Kept Name:
“It's interesting, at this point many more of my friends than not have opted to keep their names. In fact, one of my dear friends and her husband are changing their entire family's name (their first child is due next month) to an amalgam of their two last names! I never considered changing my name, and thankfully my husband didn't ever push the issue. Though I had no inner debate about it, I'm sure I did it with a whole host of reasons in the back of my mind: to avoid the bureaucratic hassle of an official name change, to keep the name I had when I began my career, to keep the name I had before I was someone's wife. I've never regretted the choice, even now that my son's last name is different than mine. I'm happy it was my choice to make.” - Kate, Queens
Why Hyphenated Names:
"Honestly, I was pretty torn. I'm a writer, and all of my work is associated with my maiden name, which is something I'm proud of. I also just really liked my name as it was. However, it was important for me to somehow share a name with my husband. Hyphenating the two last names has, in a funny way, let me cheat the system. I still mainly go by my maiden name for work reasons (plus my married name is now so long), but sentimentally speaking, I like that our family can be united under one name." - Kate, Brooklyn
Bottom line: it’s a personal choice and there’s no right answer. There’s only a right answer for you.
Here’s that photo where my now-husband and I were finally able to happily document the ‘obtaining the marriage certificate’ moment ;-):
Are you struggling with what to do about your name change? Has it been a difficult subject to broach with your fiancé and/or family? Shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to talk it out. I would love to help in any way that I can. Xo