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I love my husband — but love my last name, too

By Jennifer ChenJune 9, 2015

Jennifer Chen and her husband
Jennifer Chen and her husband Laurie Rhodes Photography

When I got married, I wanted to keep my name. After all, my maiden name appeared on bylines way before I was married. A recent troll comment on my blog made me wonder why a woman’s name matters to anyone else but the woman whose name it is. The comment read: “Brendan Hay is not your husband. You didn’t take his name, hence you are not married in the eyes of God.”

Most women choose to change their last name, while roughly 8 percent of married women keep their maiden names, according to a 2011 survey by the wedding website The Knot. For me, the decision to keep my name was simple: I like my last name. I don’t see myself as Jennifer Hay. My maiden name is a part of my identity. Who cares, besides me, what I call myself?

Interestingly, men (and some women) seem bothered by women who decide to keep their maiden names. When "Women’s Health" magazine polled its brother publication "Men’s Health" on the issue, male readers had strong opinions about how their significant other’s name change mattered to them. “One family, one name," wrote Brandon Robert Joseph Peyton via Facebook. "If she didn’t take my name, I’d seriously question her faith in us lasting as a couple. And I don’t want hyphenated kids.” When asked if they would adopt their female spouse’s surname, 93 percent of "Men’s Health" followers gave a resounding no. “My name is part of who I am,” said one anonymous user, who, despite his assertion, didn’t actually use his name to identify himself. 

A recent Bustle article points to a 2010 study, which found married women who changed their names are viewed as “caring and emotional” versus name-keepers who are perceived as “smart and ambitious.” I am fascinated by the judgment surrounding what a woman decides to do with her last name. Can’t we be both caring and smart if we keep our birth names? If we keep our last names, are we just too ambitious and arrogant for our own good?

In Greece, a law was passed in 1983 that requires women to keep their birth names for life. According to an article in The Guardian, Greek boyfriends don’t quiz their girlfriends about surname intentions. In fact, most 20-something Greek women didn’t realize their naming convention was unique until they traveled outside of Greece. When it comes to children, Greece allows parents to choose whether the child has the mother’s, father’s, or both last names. Wild, huh?

Sure, some of us keep our last names out of pure laziness. Changing your name takes a lot of paperwork. Some cite feminism or giving up their personal identity or independence. Some, like me, simply feel like we were people before we got married. 

Around the holidays, cards flood our mailbox addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Brendan Hay.” I know most people think this is perfectly acceptable. To me, it appears like my identity is lost. I’m just the wife of Brendan instead of a whole person. No one would think to address our holiday cards as “Mr. and Mrs. Jennifer Chen” but somehow it’s fine as the reverse.

I’d like to tell the troll who said I’m not legally married in the eyes of God that I wasn’t married in a church. I believe in gay marriage. I don’t send Merry Christmas cards because I have Jewish and atheist friends. I hope God has more important matters to deal with (e.g. a shooter killing nine people, while they’re praying in a church) than what I decide my last name should be. In the meantime, Brendan considers himself to be my legal husband, and that’s what matters most to me.